Adam D. Roberts's Blog
March 20, 2018
Hello there, you’re probably wondering where I’ve been these first few months of 2018, and the answer is: INSTAGRAM.
If you’re not following me there, download the app and look me up: @amateurgourmet.
It’s just a much easier way for me to share my cooking adventures, and also much more exciting, especially with the stories feature where I shoot videos as I go. For example, last night I turned the spring risotto you see above (which I’d documented in Stories on Sunday) into risotto cakes by shaping them into patties and frying them in oil. The whole thing is captured in real time:
And the results were pretty stupendous.
So if you miss hearing my voice and seeing my pictures (and my mistakes), now you know where to find me. To reiterate: @amateurgourmet on Instagram. See you there!
January 19, 2018
The last time (and only time) I’ve ever made cassoulet, it was a bit of a Noah’s Ark affair. There was duck, there was sausage, there was bacon. My cup, quite literally, was runneth over with meat and beans. Cassoulet is meant to be a hefty dish and, as a general rule, the bigger your cooking vessel, the better off you’ll be. This time around, I thought I was in good shape making Donald Link’s Pork Belly and Smoked Sausage Cassoulet from his Down South cookbook. There were only two meats to worry about, pork belly and smoked sausage, and only one pound of dried white beans. This time I’d have my cassoulet under control.
One of the nice things about making cassoulet for a dinner party is that it seems like a lot of work, but really it’s just a matter of soaking beans overnight (the only step you really need to do ahead), browning a bunch of meat the next day, adding vegetables, adding the beans, adding liquid, and cooking it in the oven for four hours.
The only tricky thing with this particular recipe is tracking down the pork belly. Lucky for me, there’s a great butcher in L.A. that I mention all the time, McCall’s Meat and Fish, and I called them Saturday morning to see if they had 2 1/2 pounds of pork belly. They did and they set some aside for me, which I picked up after getting an iced New Orelans style coffee at Blue Bottle across the street. Have you ever had that? There’s chicory in it.
Here’s how easy it is to make cassoulet: cut that pork belly into 1-1/2 inch cubes and season with lots of salt and pepper.
Add to a dry Dutch Oven, crank up the heat, and brown the meat. The fat will render out (you’ll be surprised how much comes out) and you’ll hear lots of sizzling. This step is super important; the browner you get the pork belly, the better your cassoulet will be.
Once the pork belly is all browned, you add your sausages. I found smoked sausage at Gelson’s that was smoked beef sausage, and I’m pretty sure this recipe wanted smoked pork sausage, but I couldn’t find that. The beef stuff worked great.
Now it’s time for your vegetables: onions, celery, carrots, garlic, bay leaves (are bay leaves a vegetable?), red pepper flakes, and fresh thyme.
Once those cook down a bit, you add white wine and let that reduce for three minutes.
Then you add the ingredient that makes this cassoulet really flavorful; so flavorful, in fact, that my friends Mark and Diana, who came over to eat it, called it “the best cassoulet we’ve ever had.” They speak in unison. It’s really weird.
Are you ready for the secret ingredient? THREE TABLESPOONS OF WHOLE-GRAIN MUSTARD. Also tomato paste. But that mustard works wonders.
In it goes and then you add the pork belly back to the pot, along with a quart of chicken broth, and you cook it covered for 60 minutes until the pork belly is cooked through “but not falling apart.”
Here’s where things got dicey: you add your soaked beans and another quart of stock. Only, my pot couldn’t take another quart of stock. Take a look.
Once again: my cup runneth over.
But it didn’t matter… I just stuck that whole thing (very carefully) into a 250 oven and let it cook for 3 1/2 hours uncovered. Actually, I got nervous that it wasn’t bubbling enough, so I cranked the oven up to 300 eventually. In the last half hour it gets cranked up to 450 until you get a crusty top.
And that’s basically exactly how things worked out… despite my fears, the cassoulet emerged from the oven looking pretty stellar. Served with a green salad, it was a perfect Sunday night dinner.
The fat from the pork belly melts away during all of that cooking time and infuses the beans; at the end, you get these incredibly flavorful beans and incredibly tender pieces of meat.
So find the largest oven-proof cooking vessel you have, track down some pork belly, and start soaking your beans. Cassoulet isn’t for the faint of heart, or for those suffering from heart disease, for that matter. But it is for those who are looking for some rib-sticking goodness on a cold (L.A.) winter’s night. Happy cooking.
January 12, 2018
Travel is a funny thing. The more you build it up in your head, the less likely you are to do it.
Which is why, a few months ago, when our friends Harry and Cris told us that they were going to France for Christmas and New Year’s (Cris is from Bordeaux), I spontaneously suggested that we all spend New Year’s together in Paris. The idea took, especially since Craig had never been to France, and I cashed in all of our Delta miles and booked us two roundtrip tickets to Paris. In terms of great spontaneous decisions, this was one of the best I’ve ever made.
I’ve been to Paris five times now, four times in winter and once in summer, and I much prefer going in the winter, when all of that rich, hearty food feels oh-so-right and keeps you oh-so-warm. (Plus, it warmed up quite a bit once we got there.)
The only downside to going for New Year’s was that quite a few restaurants were closed while we were there, including the ones most universally recommended: Clown Bar, Yam-Tcha, Septime. But, as you’re about to see, we did really well for ourselves and by the end of the trip, I was so full that if any of those restaurants had actually opened back up, I’d have waved a white flag and said, “Maybe next time.”
Funny enough, the best meal of the whole trip was the one that we had with Harry and Cris on New Year’s Eve. Where did we go? L’Arpege? Another Michelin three-star? Hardly. We went that morning to the Marché d’Aligre (on the recommendation of Verjus chef, Braden Perkins) and stocked up on cheese, bread, radishes, clementines, dates, butter, and all kinds of sausages and pâtes.
(Cris did most of the shopping since he speaks the language perfectly. I took French lessons before I left, but I only spoke un peu.)
We brought it all back to a friend’s apartment and enjoyed it all that night with lots of good French wine and champagne. Seriously, the best bite of the whole trip was a torn off piece of baguette from Maison Landemaine (a David Lebovitz recommendation) smeared with the grassiest, creamiest, unpasteurized Camembert, washed down with a sip of cold, crisp champagne.
The other best bite of the trip? Well, prepare to be very jealous: legendary cookbook author, and just all-around incredible person, Dorie Greenspan, invited Craig and I over for pre-dinner drinks with her husband, Michael, and she fed us homemade gougères. Makes me think of The Sound of Music lyric: “Somewhere in my youth or childhood / I must have done something good.”
Other highlights, before we get to the restaurants. We had drinks at Ina Garten’s favorite bar, on the recommendation of our friend Marcos. The bar is called Bar 228 and it’s in the Hotel Meurice and the two drinks that we had there were the most expensive drinks I’ve ever had in my life (we’re talking over sixty Euros for a Negroni and a Daiquiri). We drank them very, very slowly.
But it was worth it, especially because drinking them cast a magic spell and, you’re not going to believe me, but Ina and Jeffery were on our flight home to JFK. That’s not a joke: I heard a familiar voice, looked up, and saw Jeffery making his way down the aisle, with Ina following close behind. It was probably the highlight of my life (and, no, I didn’t talk to her; I was really clammy and gross because, without going too much into it, I experienced food poisoning on our last night in Paris. And also, I wanted to respect her privacy. And also I was afraid she’d accuse me of stealing her broccoli recipe.)
Another highlight: after giving up on the line outside The Musee D’Orsay (which I’ve been to before, Craig hadn’t), we decided to check out the Musée de la Chasse et de la Nature, which I found to be ten times more fun and unique. What is it? It’s kind of a hunting museum, but also a nature museum, infused with strange French art. It felt like we were exploring the home of a mad, French, hunter and artist who left cryptic messages everywhere, especially cryptic for people who don’t read French.
We walked around Montmartre after a rainstorm, and it was just as charming as everyone says it will be.
I used this New York Times article as a shopping guide, and wound up at Marché St.-Pierre at the base of Montmartre where I spent way too much time trying to find the kitchen section.
I did find it eventually and stocked up on kitchen towels and a handsome linen apron that cost only fifteen Euros (half a drink at Bar 228).
OK, now for the restaurants!
How do I talk about the restaurants? We went to ten restaurants. I’ll tell you about my favorite five, but mention the other five too so you can get the whole picture.
Favorite Restaurant Meals in Paris 2018:
If you’d have interviewed me five minutes after our dinner at Bistrot Paul Bert, I would have told you that I’d had a terrible time. “Wait, what? What do you mean?” I mean that when we arrived for our reservation, we were immediately seated in a back room full of loud, obnoxious Americans. One table demanding hamburgers, another table demanding “the sweetest, cheapest bottle of wine that you have.” I don’t mean to be a self-hating American, but part of the fantasy of going to Paris is that simply by being in a room full of chic Parisians, you become somewhat chic yourself. Eating at Bistrot Paul Bert was the least chic meal of our entire trip; it felt like we were eating at the French pavilion in EPCOT.
So why in the world is it my number one pick for favorite restaurant meal of the trip? Easy: the food.
The food at Bistrot Paul Bert is phenomenal. The front rooms are full of savvy Parisians who know a good thing when they see it. This is the French food of your dreams, the kind of meal you hear someone talking about in rapturous tones while closing their eyes, whisking thesmelves back to happier times.
In fact, Craig ordered the very dish that made Julia Child fall in love with Paris in the first place: Sole Meunière. (Actually, not sure this was Sole Meunière… but it was definitely sole.)
And I had a dish I’ve been wanting to try forever (especially since it’s prominently featured in the screenplay I’ve been working on for the past two years): Blanquette de Veau.
Served over rice, this was chicken soup for the French soul. Except instead of chicken, it was baby cow.
Then the most wonderful thing happened. Craig ordered cheese instead of dessert and they brought out this giant board of cheeses and let him eat as much as he wanted. For someone who’d never been to France who absolutely loves cheese, this was like being given the key to the city.
And me, I had the best dessert of the entire trip (and this all happened on our first night) a Paris-Brest bigger than my head.
Here’s the thing: if you go into your meal at Bistrot Paul Bert knowing that, if you’re American, you’ll most likely be seated amongst the other Americans, given menus in English, spoken to somewhat patronizingly (though with the best of intentions; our waiter was very sweet), you’ll have what’s probably the best French food of your entire trip. Again, I was in a terrible mood when we left. But I was incredibly well fed.
2. La Bourse et La Vie.
There’s a new phenomenon happening in Paris involving American chefs: basically, they’re running the kitchens at some of the city’s most celebrated restaurants. In fact, the next three places I’m going to mention all have American chefs. It’s just a thing that’s happening. And Daniel Rose, the chef at La Bourse et La Vie, happens to also be the chef at Le CouCou in New York, which I recently named my second favorite meal of 2017.
Located in the financial district, La Bourse et La Vie (La Bourse refers to the stock market, though the full restaurant name also colloquially means, “Your money or your life”) has a real polish and sheen to it that, again, makes a place like Bistrot Paul Bert feel like EPCOT. You’ll feel very stylish eating here, though most of the other tables, once again, were full of Americans. These ones, though, weren’t demanding hamburgers or asking for sweet wine.
The food at La Bourse et La Vie is absolutely lovely. That feels like the right word for it: it’s carefully made and very subtly executed. My soup, made of Jerusalem artichokes, wasn’t bright with too much acid or over-salted. It was just soothing and creamy and earthy. And Craig’s leek salad was mellow, not at all stringy, and satisfying.
We each had steak frites for our entree:
There was a tiny bit of gristle to work through (Craig had to spit out his first bite) but those fries were phenomenal and with a glass of red wine at lunch, the only thing I really needed afterwards was a nap.
Instead, we had the dessert which was a killer crème caramel.
OK, then I really needed nap.
Remember our friends Harry and Cris who inspired this whole trip? So we finally met up with them on our third night in Paris (they were coming from Bordeaux) and our reunion happened at one of the most charming restaurants that we visited the whole week that we were there: Verjus.
The craziest thing about Verjus is that, apparently, a few years ago I met up with the chefs/owners, Braden Perkins and Laura Adrian, in New York. “We had a cookie at Birdbath,” said Braden when he came over to visit our table. “Oh yeah!” I said, the memory coming back to me. When we’d met, Verjus was just a twinkle in their eye; they were still hosting pop-up dinners in Paris. Now they were at the helm of one of the most recommended restaurants in Paris.
And the food at Verjus is truly wonderful. My pictures didn’t come out so great, but the meal started with all kinds of little bites set out before us: a hollowed out squash filled with cheese, an egg with truffles in it that Harry and Craig couldn’t stop raving about, a crostata-like tart filled with greens.
There was so much more that came out, including my favorite dish (a wedge of pumpkin with a mussel sauce), but the most memorable may have been the seared foie gras served over lentils:
And the desserts totally hit the spot.
We loved our dinner at Verjus.
4. Au Passage.
Down a dark alley, in what felt like the middle of nowhere, lives Au Passage, a restaurant recommended to me by Melissa Clark and, once again, a restaurant run by an American chef.
This place just oozed cool. And we were surrounded by French people here, including our friend Brad Comfort who was visiting Paris from L.A. because this is where he grew up. Well not this alley, but Paris.
He supervised as I ordered the food in French; that’s one thing my French lessons prepared me well for: ordering food with proper inflections. We ordered oysters, which in French are called “huitres.”
We, of course, ordered more foie gras (when in France).
We ate some kind of raw fish.
We drank a really nice Beaujolais.
And we also ate more fish, some pork, and dessert.
Actually, that dessert was the most memorable: a baba au rhum that was positively packed with flavor.
Our meal at Au Passage was definitely the coolest one of our trip. If you want to visit Paris and feel like a hip Parisian, eat here.
When we knew we were coming to Paris, I reached out to my old pal Clotilde of Chocolate and Zucchini to let her know that we were coming. And she was kind enough to make a reservation for us at Alain Ducasse’s new brasserie, Champeaux, situated in the historic marketplace, Les Halles.
We met up there with Clotilde and her husband Maxence and they guided us through the menu of French classics. Craig and I each had French Onion Soup, which was very good indeed, especially on a rainy night.
But the highlight of the meal came next, and it was so good that it put Champeaux in my Top Five list, above places like Frenchie and Chateaubriand, where we also ate. And that dish was the chicken for two:
This chicken. Oh my God, this chicken. Perfectly cooked, perfectly moist, but, more importantly, exploding with bright, lemony flavor. And, even more important, surrounded by bright, lemony, chicken jus, which I over-eagerly sopped up with bread. Apparently, Clotilde has a recipe for this chicken in her new cookbook that’s coming out soon; I’ll be first in line to buy it just so I can try to make this at home.
There was also mashed potatoes, rich with butter:
And a molten chocolate cake for dessert.
All of that was great, but oh my, that chicken. I’ll be dreaming about that chicken for a long time.
* * * * *
So what of the other places that we ate? Frenchie was a classy place with beautifully prepared food. Here are some pics:
I enjoyed everything that we ate at Frenchie very much, and especially appreciated the service which was convivial and professional, but frankly the food felt like food I could have at a good restaurant in America. Nicely made chicken. Nicely prepared fish. The cheese came from England. The dessert was very familiar to me, like something we might have at Trois Mec here in L.A.
It’s not really a dig on Frenchie. It’s more a point about the kind of food that you want to eat when you’re traveling; for me, that’s food that tastes like nothing I could get at home.
As for the other places we visited, Chateaubriand was vibrant and exciting, though the food was tipping its hat a bit too much to what’s trendy right now in America. So we had a watermelon gazpacho, a ceviche, etc.
Le Comptoir was great on a rainy night.
Here’s where we had the obligatory escargot:
We also had the most intriguing salad of cooked and raw vegetables with chestnuts.
For my entree, I had a rabbit stuffed with liver. Yeah, I wanted to try something I couldn’t easily get in the States. The sauce sort of tasted like French mole.
Here’s where we first encountered these really cool steak knives that I ended up buying as a souvenir (Clotilde told me where I could find them; Courty et Fils.)
If Le Comptoir’s not in my top five, it’s only because the food came out a little too fast and I wasn’t sure how I felt about everything. Like the escargot was good, but not as good as the one at Petit Trois here in L.A. But frankly, this could easily switch positions with Champeaux on my list. They’re both equally good.
Finally, I have to mention Le Fontaine de Belleville, where we had breakfast one morning.
It was cold and rainy out, but we found a little table in there and the servers only spoke French, but we figured out that the stove wasn’t working so we ordered the meusli and two baguettes with butter and ham.
It was an utterly simple breakfast but, in its simplicity, incredibly memorable. Especially that baguette with the butter and the ham; the butter had a grassiness to it that American butter just doesn’t have.
In fact, if I had to sum up my food takeaway from this trip, there are only three things you really need to eat in Paris to experience the sublime: bread, butter, and cheese. Everything else is nice, but those are the three things that are just categorically better in France.
To that point, Craig’s favorite bite of the whole trip may have been the one we had at a random coffee shop that we stumbled into called Blackburn. We ordered eggs cocotte and Craig could not stop raving about what he was eating: eggs baked in the most luscious cream (tangy and rich, like creme friache), browned bubbly cheese, and a simple yolky egg that we sopped up with good bread.
And so ends this GIGANTIC post. I won’t bore you with details of our journey home, except to say that after getting sick at our last dinner (not saying where, because they were so nice, but I’ll tell you the dish: tripe and calamari… just typing those words makes me want to vomit), being too sick to say hi to Ina on the plane, we got stranded at JFK for the night because of the bomb cyclone.
Luckily, we had our memories of Paris to get us through it.
December 18, 2017
Was this the best cooking year of my life? (Oh no, there I go saying “best” again.) But, looking back on the past 365 days, I feel like I really came into my own this year in the kitchen. Gone are all the old insecurities that fueled this blog in the first place. Now, I basically know what I’m doing when I step behind the stove. Even if I’m making something that I’ve never made before, I can imagine all of the steps in my head, plot a course that works for me, and get things done with enough time to clean up before the guests arrive. And when it came to seemingly insurmountable tasks (for example: making five hundred latkes for a Hanukkah party, two hundred more than last time), I just took things one latke at a time and managed to get it all done, shedding only onion-induced tears. So in a year of tremendous cooking, the following ten dishes must also be pretty tremendous. I hope you’ll agree.
1. Marion Burros’s Plum Torte.
It’s the most requested recipe in the history of The New York Times (you can find it here) and, yet, I’d never attempted it until this year. Once I did, I became hooked, making it over and over again for dinner parties this summer, adding my own personal touch by using a variety of multi-colored plums instead of the monochromatic purple ones we all know. The process is oddly soothing and surprising; you make what feels like a glorified pancake batter. You pour it into a greased springform pan and then pile in many, many halved plums, way more than you think can possibly fit into such a situation. Then you sprinkle with sugar, lemon juice, and cinnamon, bake it in a hot oven, and it comes out looking and smelling gorgeous. Serve with some freshly whipped cream or vanilla ice cream, and you have my most winning recipe of 2017.
2. Seafood Stews For One, For Two, and For A Crowd
When Craig left to go shoot his new movie in New York, I treated myself to a solo seafood dinner that I loved so much, I vowed to make it for him when he got back. It was less about a particular recipe than it was the grandiosity of the experience: lots of shrimp and clams and mussels cooked with garlic and chiles and white wine, served with arugula on top, a ramekin of blender-made aioli, some French bread, and a crisp glass of white wine. I don’t know if it’s possibly to have an orgy with just yourself, but this dinner felt like one.
Then, when Craig returned, I recreated this exact same meal, just doubling everything.
Once again, it was a hit. So much so that when he went back to New York to edit the movie, I invited some friends over and multiplied everything by four, making the Big Pot of Seafood I blogged about a few weeks ago.
(Sorry these pictures are so blurry, is this is a sign that I need to get a new camera in 2018? Or maybe just a new iPhone, Santa?)
3. Frito Pie
Who’d a thunk that cutting open a bag of Fritos with a pair of scissors at a dinner party and then piling in a bunch of spicy chili, onions, limes, cheese, and cilantro could be so much fun? But in terms of elevating a famously humble dish to a level of pizazz that absolutely commands you’re attention, Nancy Silverton’s recipe (which is actually an adaptation of Dean Fearing’s recipe) is pretty much unbeatable.
Nancy suggests smaller bags of Fritos, but I think the medium-sized bags work fine, as long as you dump out a bunch of the Fritos into a communal bowl first (it’s part of the fun).
4. Dario’s Olive Oil Cake with Rosemary and Pine Nuts
Once again, a recipe adapted by Nancy Silverton. (If you keep seeing the name “Nancy Silverton” on this blog and have no idea who I’m talking about, get onto Netflix and watch the Chef’s Table about her. She’s pretty much one of the most brilliant chefs alive, as far as I’m concerned.) This one comes from the famous butcher, Dario Cecchini, and it’s a cake that has many steps and many ingredients: raisins soaked in Vin Santo, toasted Sicilian pine nuts, whole oranges cut into pieces. (You can find the recipe here on Food52.)
There’s half a cup of olive oil, tufts of whole rosemary leaves, and by the time it goes into the oven, you have no idea what this thing is going to taste like. Well, spoiler alert: it tastes pretty amazing.
And it looks pretty impressive too. It’s a great winter dessert.
5. Lamb Shanks with French Cris’s Mashed Potatoes
We went away with our friends Harry and Cris last February to Oceanside, California, and after a day of exploring the beaches, etc., the idea was put forward that Cris and I should cook dinner together. Cris, you have to understand, is French and has cooking in his blood (see here). I’m a neurotic Jewish guy from Florida who barely knew how to boil water when I graduated college. Which made this collaboration dinner slightly nerve-racking for me.
But when we got to the grocery store to figure out what we were going to make, things just kind of fell into place. I found lamb shanks at the butcher counter and Cris said he could make his famous French mashed potatoes to go with them. I found a recipe online (don’t remember which one) but basically just browned the shanks in lots of olive oil, added mirepoix, a bottle of red wine, and let them cook away for a few hours. Cris’s potatoes were boiled with lots of herbs and then mashed with lots of love and possibly butter.
The best moment came, though, when I removed the shanks from the liquid and thought I was done. French Cris cried “non!” and proceeded to put the liquid on high heat, letting it boil down to a thick sauce that was absolutely wonderful poured on top of everything. Très magnifique.
6. Smoked Trout Sandwiches
Sometimes a certain sandwich just becomes a part of your life. Such is the case with this smoked trout tartine that I started making when Craig began joining me for my Sunday walk to the Atwater Village Farmer’s market. One day, he spied smoked trout at a fish stand. We bought that, I bought some seeded rye bread, some heirloom tomatoes, and, most intriguing of all, this thick French kefir yogurt that’s so rich and luscious, it basically feels like cream cheese. The sequence goes like this: I toast the bread, spread on the kefir, top with tomatoes that I drizzle with good olive oil, salt, and pepper, and then on goes the smoked trout.
It seemed like a pretty unbeatable experience until the day we discovered the most amazing focaccia at a place right near the front of the market, I forget the name of it, but it’s truly incredible focaccia. I also bought some wild arugula there and my smoked trout tartine became a smoked trout sandwich.
The focaccia is positively dripping with olive oil and the whole thing is like the west coast sister to the traditional New York Sunday morning bagel and lox. Paired with an iced coffee from Proof Bakery and a Sunday New York Times, it’s pretty much the ultimate California Sunday morning sandwich experience.
7. Tahini Chocolate Chip Cookies
You know that Portlandia sketch where they talk about pickling everything? Well that’s how it feels these days with putting tahini in desserts. “You can put it in brownies! You can put it in cheesecake!” So the idea of adding it to chocolate chip cookies kind of made me shrug my shoulders. “Yeah, yeah, how innovative. Puhlease.” (My shoulders are pretty grouchy.) But then I made Ottolenghi’s recipe, and the friends that I made it for absolutely swooned.
(That’s them reacting to chicken, but their reaction to these cookies was twice as big.)
The tahini added this richness that’s hard to describe; I guess the closest thing would be stirring peanut butter into your chocolate chip cookie batter, but with a smokier quality.
A few months later, I followed Ottolenghi’s recipe for Brownies with Tahini and Halvah, and that was also pretty wild. Color me convinced.
8. Green Polenta
It’s pretty ugly (and I batch-edited these pictures, so there was no individual tweaking) and yet, when I made this green polenta for Harry and Cris, they went nuts for it. So much so, that a few weeks later, Cris made this for an important dinner and called me for advice on how to make it. When a Frenchman is impressed by your cooking, you know you’ve done something right.
The recipe comes from April Bloomfield’s A Girl and Her Greens. (Here it is on Food Republic.) You basically make a super garlicky kale puree with olive oil, then cook polenta the normal way with water and salt, and then you stir in that puree with more olive oil, Parmesan, and mascarpone. It’s pretty transcendent. I topped it with some spatchcocked chicken and a salsa verde, but frankly, on a cold winter’s night? You could just make a big bowl of this polenta and top it with an egg and be very happy.
9. Chicken Parmesan / Kerala Fried Chicken
When my friends Louis and Jared were coming over for dinner, there was some discussion about what I might make. At some point, Chicken Parmesan was put forward and everyone seemed pretty excited about that. And sure enough, it was a pretty excellent thing to make for a dinner party: you flatten boneless, skinless chicken breasts, coat them in flour, egg wash, and then lots of bread crumbs (I used panko), fry them in lots of oil, then layer them in a pan with tomato sauce and lots of cheese.
I didn’t really follow one particular recipe, just kind of combined ideas from a bunch of them. The most important thing, though, is to season all of the elements: the flour, the egg wash, and the bread crumbs. Also, it’s good to have a good, clean setup when you make this or it could get messy. (I almost ran out of space.) And keep one hand clean as you dredge, in case you don’t know that trick. There’s your dredging hand, and your non-dredging hand.
And speaking of dredging and frying (nice transition!), earlier this year, I made Asha Gomez’s Kerala Fried Chicken from My Two Souths.
It looks complex, but really you just marinate a cut-up chicken in a blended mixture of buttermilk, herbs, and serrano peppers overnight. The next day, you dry off the chicken, coat it in flour (remember: one dredging hand!), and fry in Canola oil. At the end, you drop in two stems of curry leaves which I get at the Indian supermarket near our apartment. For a minimal amount of work, it’s yields pretty explosive results. Everyone loved it.
10. Tres Leches Cake with Strawberries
Earlier this year, I hosted a taco dinner for twelve people. It was a bit overwhelming–it’s the largest group of people I’ve ever cooked for at a dinner party, not counting Thanksgiving–even though it was basically a taco bar where I made two types of fillings (pork from a Rick Bayless recipe, and one with squash and mushrooms, also a Rick Bayless recipe). There was black bean soup for an appetizer, which was nicely received, but it wasn’t until dessert that people really lit up. This tres leches cake from Food and Wine was so beloved and ballyhooed, I ended up making it again on Frito Pie night.
It’s kind of a cinch to make: you make a very simple batter that you pour into a 9 X 13 inch pan. You bake that, let it cool, and then the fun part comes when you poke holes everywhere and pour in a steeped mixture of the three milks (cream, evaporated, condensed) infused with lots of cinnamon and vanilla. The best part is, you actually need to make it a day ahead, so you can get your dessert done 24 hours before you need it, and as it sits in the refrigerator, it gets better and better and better.
December 11, 2017
When you’ve been food blogging for long enough, your old posts can act as your own personal culinary archives. What was I eating in December of 2010? The answer is just a few clicks away. (Looks like it was spaghetti and gingerbread cake.)
There’s a gap, now, in that data from July 2015 to September 2017, when I stopped blogging, and future historians and biographers will have no idea what I ate during that period. Not since the burning of the Library at Alexandria has there been such a loss for civilization. But here I am, ready to remedy some of that by sharing my favorite restaurant meals of 2017. Really, the idea to do this came to me while scrolling through all of the pictures on my phone from this past year. It’s been an insane 365 days: we’ve ping-ponged from Mexico City to Washington State to Provincetown to Florida, with frequent stops in New York, where Craig was working on his latest movie, Alex Strangelove. And, not to rub it in, but we’re ending the year in Paris. Paris! OK, I did just rub it in. But come on, it’s Paris, and Craig’s never been and we’re using all of our miles to go. We are très excited.
But back to the meals we ate in 2017. They run the gambit from fancy and decadent to casual and low-key. Obviously, the ranking is totally arbitrary. I can’t say that the deliciousness of the food at AbcV was really that much dramatically better than the food at Trois Mec, but I’d been to Trois Mec before, and AbcV was brand new, so that’s why it gets the edge.
And so, without further ado, here we are… my favorite restaurant meals of 2017.
1. The Willows Inn (Lummi Island, Washington State).
Some restaurants are so beautiful, and the experience of going there is so breathtaking, that the restaurant would have to REALLY screw up to not make it your favorite meal of the year. Dinner at The French Laundry comes to mind. And El Bulli. The Willows Inn, on Lummi Island in the Pacific Northwest, belongs in the same category. We were lucky enough to receive a gift certificate from Craig’s parents as a Christmas gift a few years ago, and this past July, we decided was the time to use it. We flew to Bellingham, where Craig’s parents live, and then drove their car on to a ferry. Did you know that cars could go on ferries? I had no idea.
Once we arrived, we were seated on a patio where lots of little bites came out, along with our cocktails. These little bites were actually my favorite bites of the whole dinner, which isn’t a disparagement of the dinner, but more a comment on how delicious these little bites were.
Everything was caught or found locally (including those wild plums) and treated with the utmost care. That mussel was smoked in a box filled with rocks from the surrounding San Juan Islands. And everything there was super casual, despite the seriousness of the food. It was a perfect restaurant for me and Craig because I like fancy restaurant food and Craig likes a laid-back atmosphere. So this was a perfect dinner in a perfect location and, hence, it was my favorite meal of 2017.
2. Le CouCou (New York, NY).
Some restaurants are so hyped, they’re bound to disappoint. Other restaurants are hyped the appropriate amount, and not only do they deliver the goods, the goods are even better than the goods you’d been fantasizing about. Such was the case with our dinner at Le CouCou in New York.
It all started, actually, with a phone call. Knowing how popular the place was, I just called up one day and told the person who answered that I was coming to New York, dying to eat at Le CouCou, and would come at any time on any day that they had available. I think my enthusiasm and openness did the trick, because we scored a prime reservation and a beautiful table with a view of the open kitchen. But, first, there were drinks at the gorgeous bar.
I don’t remember what we drank, but I do remember feeling really classy drinking it.
We were shown to our table where, with the help of our server, we navigated the classically French menu. And then the food started to come out.
Everything was so polished, like it jumped right out of the pages of a classic French cookbook and landed on our table. But sometimes fussy old French food can taste flat, and here, everything popped. Especially that braised endive, which was probably my favorite dish of the whole night, braised, as it was, in bright, acidic orange juice with lots and lots of butter.
Everything at Le CouCou was spectacular, which is why I posted all of the pictures of our meal, because I just want to emphasize that. I’d happily go back, but we’re going to go one better: we’re having lunch at the chef Daniel Rose’s new restaurant in Paris, La Bourse et La Vie. I’ll be sure to report back.
3. The Canteen and Liz’s Cafe (Provincetown, MA).
This summer, we took a big trip to Provincetown with a bunch of our friends and had a blast. Many meals were had, some more formal than others, but the best of the bunch took place at two places: Canteen, which is situated right on the water, and Liz’s Cafe, a brand new spot run by a sassy proprietor named Liz.
Sometimes your favorite meals of the year have nothing to do with the food, really. Not that the food at either of these places was bad; in fact, it was often great. But my enthusiasm for these meals has much more to do with the context: the friends we were with, the setting (which was often beautiful), and, most importantly, the frosé.
In case you’re unaware of the phenomenon, frosé is frozen rosé; like a rosé slushie. And we drank a lot of it at Canteen. It went particularly well with this lobster roll, though it also was fun to drink just by itself.
Liz’s Cafe didn’t have frosé, but it did have a bar shaped like a boat.
And excellent clam chowder, fried fish sandwiches, and pie (not pictured).
And then there was Liz, who frequently joined our table and gossiped about the locals. She’s a real character but she runs a tight ship and on our next trip to Provincetown, I know where I’ll be having brunch.
4. Pujol, Maque, and Contramar (Mexico City, MEX).
We went to Pujol in Mexico City last January, one of the world’s best restaurants, just before it was completely re-conceived and reopened by its creator, Enrique Olvera. So we were there, really, for the end of an era, and what we experienced when we ate there was a sort of a “greatest hits” menu of ants on a baby corn served in a giant hollowed-out gourd and, perhaps most famous of all, the dish with two types of mole served with warm tortillas for dunking.
It was all very delicious and I’m glad that we ate there, but it also felt a little rushed and regimented. I was very aware that we were on the clock, so to speak, and there’d be another party coming to our table in a few hours and they needed us gone. For those reasons, I actually had a better time at Cosme, Olivera’s New York restaurant, which would also be on this list if I had the space. The feeling there was way more relaxed and the food just as good. (We also ate, this year, at Atla, Olivera’s new casual restaurant in SoHo. We’ve achieved the Olivera trifecta.)
My favorite meal in Mexico City, though, was at a casual brunch spot called Maque.
Abutting a park in the Condesa district (which, sadly, was badly hit during the earthquake), this place had such a warm vibe and such great hospitality. A waiter came by with a tray of pastries when we were seated at our table out on the sidewalk.
And the food, when it came out, hit the spot in the way the best Mexican food does: spicy, stewy, and deeply comforting.
Perhaps the most recommended restaurant in Mexico City is Contramar. Everyone tells you to eat there. And those people are right.
As you can tell from those pictures, Contramar is known for its seafood, and the tuna tacos–maybe their most famous item–truly were great. The only mistake we made was not ordering dessert. We’ll do that next time.
5. AbcV (New York, NY).
One of the most stunning meals that I ate this year was at the newly opened AbcV in New York’s Flatiron district. It was nice to eat there right when it opened, before the reviews came out, so I could form my own opinion about it. Helping me form my opinion was the co-founder of Jarry Magazine, Lukas Volger.
We really were dazzled by all of the food as it came out. Sure, some of it was pretentious (I could’ve done without the beverage menu featuring Vibrations, aka Restorative Tonics) but the food, when it came out, really spoke for itself.
Healthy eating never felt so naughty. (AbcV, feel free to use that blurb on your cookbook.)
6. Trois Mec (Los Angeles, CA).
Well, I just told you about this one (click here to read the post), so I won’t bombard you with pictures again. But my dinner with my friend Ryan on a Monday night (a Cyber Monday night, to be exact) at Trois Mec was definitely one of my favorite meals of the year. Everything was so inventive and exciting and it was so great to see Ludo Lefebvre, the subject of the most recent Mind of a Chef, there in the kitchen overseeing everything. In a city as spread-apart as L.A., it’s easy to forget how casually one can just go eat at a world class restaurant, but Trois Mec is right there on the corner of Highland and Melrose with Petit Trois, Pizzeria Mozza, Osteria Mozza, and Chi Spacca all waiting for you to enjoy them. All you have to do is get into your car and drive.
7. The Union Square Cafe (New York, NY).
The legendary Union Square Cafe re-opened in a new location this year and, as far as I’m concerned, it’s even better than the original. Everything we ate there was so delicious, especially the famous tuna burger, pictured above. We were joined by our friend Tim Federle, author of Better Nate Than Ever and co-writer of the upcoming animated film Ferdinand. In his spare time, Tim works as a food model.
The service, of course, was top notch. So much so that when our server heard us debating about which dessert to get, she brought us out both desserts, one of them on the house. That’s the Danny Meyer touch.
(I swear there were two desserts. Maybe we ate the other one before I took this pic?)
8. Cosa Buona (Los Angeles, CA).
Alimento is probably our favorite Italian restaurant in L.A. It’s the kind of place you go for upscale Italian food in a casual setting: chicken liver crostini, incredible homemade pastas, etc. So when we heard that the chef, Zach Pollack, was opening up a pizza joint in Echo Park, I shouted: “Sign me up!” OK, I didn’t really shout that, but we were definitely super excited to go there when it finally opened. I mean, look at this garlic toast.
And these mozzarella sticks. They’re insanely delicious.
The salad’s just what you want to balance everything out.
And then there’s the pizza.
And, of course, cannolis.
Really, what more could you possibly want in a pizza joint? Excuse me, I think I know where I’m having lunch.
9. Via Carota (New York, NY).
Boy, Craig really should get a commission for the amount of times he’s featured in this post.
On a random Sunday in a random month in the West Village, we were looking for a place to have dinner. I remembered that Jody Williams, of Buvette, and Rita Sodi, of i Sodi (two of our favorite New York restaurants) had opened a place together. That’s all I knew, but then there we were on the doorstep of Via Carota and there was a table for us, if we wanted it. We wanted it. And the meal that transpired was just lovely.
No need to go into detail, those pictures pretty much tell the story, except add great people-watching, charming waitstaff, and sparkly Aperol spritzes and you get the idea. On a spring day (I’m pretty sure it was a spring day), there’s probably no better place to eat in New York.
10. Prune and Hearth (New York, NY)
Prune really is my favorite restaurant in the world. It’s so idiosyncratic, so clearly the vision of its owner, Gabrielle Hamilton, who also happens to be a genius writer. You know that question they’re always asking in the New York Times Book Review: who would you invite to your dream literary dinner party? Well, eating at Prune is like eating at such a party; you’re having a meal in a genius writer’s house. And everything she makes is perfect, in my book.
This dessert, by the way, was a whole orange cooked in sugar syrup and it’s just insanely good.
Now my other favorite chef in New York is easily Marco Canora. He’s so beloved in his field, and you can see why. His food is so smart, made with so much passion and skill. If you don’t follow him on Instagram, you’re really missing out. His stories are brilliant cooking demonstrations.
His restaurant, Hearth, is now Craig’s favorite place to eat in New York. Working on his movie, he ate there all the time and I frequently ate with him. My pictures of the food there aren’t so great because it’s so dark, but here we are at brunch with our friends Ola and Andrzej.
Everything that we ate there was so delightful (especially since legendary pastry chef Karen DeMasco makes all of the muffins and pastries, as well as the desserts). It’s perfect for a weekend brunch, and even better for a weeknight dinner. OK, here are some very dark pictures of a dinner there. Actually, maybe they’re not that dark.
That should give you the idea… it’s oh so good.
And that, my friends, were my favorite restaurant meals of 2017. Now your browsers are just as clogged as my arteries.
December 6, 2017
After posting yesterday’s post about applesauce and “best recipes,” I woke up to an e-mail this morning from Tucker Shaw, who’s the new editor-in-chief of Cook’s Country at America’s Test Kitchen. Tucker’s actually been a long-time supporter of my blog (a blurb of his is featured on my first book) and I had no idea he’d taken over the helm of such a storied institution. Since I called out ATK in my post, it somehow caught his attention and here’s what he has to say. Don’t worry: I asked his permission to publish this. And I figure it’s only fair to put his response on here, since it so clearly addresses my attack on their use of the word “best.” (Though feeling a little hypocritical after someone pointed out on my Facebook page that my cookbook is called Secrets of the Best Chefs.) Thanks, Tucker, for reaching out.
I love your applesauce post from yesterday. We’re all talking about it this morning at ATK. I know your post isn’t really about ATK as much as recipe prescriptiveness in general (and also applesauce). But it’s got us musing over here
I totally get what you’re saying! What’s best for one goose isn’t always best for the next goose.
I think that ATK’s intent when we use words like “best” has changed over the years, and is still evolving, but I think that our aim is never to corral home cooks into an our-way-or-the-highway situation, but rather to get them as close to an objectively successful/satisfying result as possible (insofar any cooking result can be “objectively” satisfying, see goose v. goose above). This in turn, we hope, gives them confidence — confidence in us, of course, that’s our business hope so that they re-subscribe — but also confidence in themselves to then go off and invent.
We don’t always get that message exactly right, and I can see how sometimes it sounds like we’re discouraging creativity. But I think our real mission, and certainly the most gratifying result, is when we’re able help someone develop the skills and experience to be able to inhabit those creative decisions with confidence and build on them. We always need to check ourselves on how we communicate that goal, and your post is a really nice opportunity for us to do some checking. We don’t want to prey on insecurities! We want to instill confidence.
It’s funny timing. I actually just finished writing an editor’s letter for an upcoming issue of Cook’s Country about this very thing. About how for me personally, I always follow a recipe exactly the first time because I know I’ll learn something. Then, on my second date with a given recipe, I tinker and tailor. (Send over a soldier and a spy and, well, that’s a complete meal.)
Anyway, this is really just a long winded way of saying hi, and thank you for the food for thought this morning!
I hope all’s well your way. Those fires out there looks scary.
December 5, 2017
OK, I’m going to tell you a secret, and maybe it’s an obvious secret, one that you already know (especially since it’s the title of this post), but I also think it’s a secret most people don’t want to acknowledge: there is no such thing as the best recipe.
Now I say this as someone who, for years, titled my posts “The Best” this or “The Best” that. My most popular post of all time was called The Best Broccoli of Your Life. I still have people who come up to me on the street and say, “Your broccoli recipe really is the best.” First of all, it’s not my broccoli recipe, it’s Ina Garten’s. Second of all, it’s an excellent recipe, it yields wonderful results, but is it the best? Let me repeat my point: there’s no such thing as the best.
What am I getting at here? Well, let’s take the present moment: I’m making applesauce. I bought a dozen assorted apples at the farmer’s market on Sunday and now I’m turning them into applesauce to pair with the latkes I’m making for Hanukkah.
In searching for a recipe, I came across several that touted themselves as “the best” applesauce recipes. They seemed like very nice recipes. One featured a vanilla bean. The other involved roasting the apples in the oven first.
If I were a less experienced cook, I might read those recipe titles and figure, “Well that’s that, then. If this is the best recipe, then I guess this is the one that I’m supposed to make.”
That’s precisely what recipe writers want you to think. In fact, there’s an entire empire built on this very idea: Cook’s Illustrated. I watch their PBS show all the time and their attitude is basically, “We’ve performed dozens and dozens of tests and after careful, agonizing research, we’ve concluded that THIS is the best and only way to make (insert recipe name) here.”
What they’re preying on is the home cook’s insecurity. So many people are unsure of themselves in the kitchen, so when someone tells you that they’ve failed over and over again so that you don’t have to, that’s such welcome news. “If I follow these steps, I will get a good result.” That’s music to most people’s ears.
But, I’d argue, that also hobbles the home cook. It makes the process less creative, less individualistic. Let’s liken it to something simple, like movie theater candy. Everyone has a favorite movie theater candy. Mine’s Buncha Crunch. Imagine watching an episode of America’s Test Kitchen where they say, “We’ve tested thousands of movie theater candies and we’ve determined that the best movie theater candy is M&Ms.” Would you then give up your affection for Sour Patch Kids or Junior Mints because America’s Test Kitchen told you that M&Ms were the best? I hope not!
So why are we so willing to do that in the kitchen? Again, I think people are scared to go out on a limb. But that’s where you have to start to trust your own personal taste. Like my applesauce: the recipe I settled on (another Ina recipe, obviously) calls for the zest and juice from a lemon and an orange, cinnamon and allspice. I had Meyer lemons and tangerines, and I didn’t have allspice, but I did have fresh nutmeg, so I grated some of that in. (I love nutmeg.)
I can imagine a home cook reading those tweaks and crying out, “BUT THEN IT WON’T BE THE BEST.” Then I’d cry back, “THERE’S NO SUCH THING AS THE BEST.” There’s only what you want, what you like, what you think tastes good. The more you make it taste like what you, specifically YOU, want it to taste like, the better it will be. Speaking of which…
It smells so good in here right now. Did that tangerine juice make a difference? The nutmeg instead of the allspice? Not really sure, but I’d bet this tastes slightly different from the one Ina made and from the one you might make later today.
Next time, I might try the Judy Rodgers’ technique of roasting the apples first. Or maybe I’ll add some pomegranate seeds and persimmons, since I have those around too. Really, it’ll all depend on my mood, what I’m going for, what kind of sauce I’d like to make at that particular moment. Other people might hate it, but I know I’ll love it, and that, and only that, is what makes it the best.
November 28, 2017
I had a very good Cyber Monday, if I do say so myself. My KitchenAid mixer has been in decline every since that time, years ago, that I was using it to knead bread dough and heard a giant BOOM in the kitchen, only to discover it had toppled on to the floor, cracking a tile in the process. Now it looks like Darth Vader at the end of Return of the Jedi, its whole back exposed to reveal stray wires and coils (the cover won’t stay on). The other day I accidentally put my hand on one of those wires and it zapped me. The thing is ten years old and so when I saw Jason Kottke link to a KitchenAid mixer deal on Amazon yesterday, it was if the food gods were smiling down upon me. I got the six-quart, professional series in Aqua Sky for $220 less than the normal price. It arrives tomorrow.
I may have also purchased a new food processor, a fire extinguisher (you never know!), and two mid-century serving platters on Etsy that weren’t discounted for Cyber Monday, but I was on a roll, so I just went with it. And then, one of L.A.’s most celebrated restaurants, Trois Mec, posted this on its Twitter feed: “We’re celebrating cyber Monday with a deal of our own! Buy for 2 and eat for 4, or buy for 1 and eat for 2! Valid for today only! Email firstname.lastname@example.org for more details!”
I texted the Tweet to my friend Ryan O’Connell, who’s always up for adventure, and sure enough he said he was into it. I e-mailed Luis to see if the deal was still going and he said he had a table for us at 8:45. Those food gods must really, really like me.
So sure enough, at 8:45 last night (Cyber Monday night), we sat down for dinner at Trois Mec.
Spoiler alert: this was one of the best meals I’ve had in a long, long time. Maybe my favorite meal of 2017.
It started sweetly enough with two savory madeleines, tandoori and lemon thyme.
Then came the only dish that hadn’t changed since my last visit, and rightly so: the crispy tapioca, parmesan, passionfruit square is the perfect emblem of this restaurant. Expertly made, enigmatic, you’re not quite sure what you’re eating, but you’re loving every bite.
But where I really started to swoon was when the bread came out: there was brioche, there was grilled bread, and then there were three butters. One was a brown butter emulsion, one a butter infused with Mezcal, and the third–my favorite–an imported butter from France infused with espelette.
There were diver scallops with apple gelée, seaweed, and buckwheat popcorn.
The scallops were perfect: they tasted like they’d just been fished out of the water, shucked on the spot (do you shuck a scallop?), and then paired with ingredients that made them taste even better.
And then there was my favorite course of the night: wood grilled endive, pain d’epices, citrus, grilled herb mayo, radicchio.
This dish was genius, specifically in the pairing of a sweet, Christmasy bread with the bitter endive and bright citrus. I couldn’t stop raving about it, and it paired really well with the wine Ryan picked out (pretty sure it was a Bourgogne, but Ryan’s the wine guy).
We splurged on the supplement of potato pulp, onion soubise, frozen foie gras, cantal cheese, and brown butter.
Imagine the dust that makes a Dorito so good, then imagine a dust made with all of the things listed above and sprinkled over a pile of potato pulp, and you’ll understand what’s so dazzling about this. If you’ve been watching the latest season of Mind of a Chef starring Ludo Lefebvre, the chef of Trois Mec, on Netflix, you’ll learn the roots of this dish and see the process of how it’s made. So of course we had to have it.
Then came the entrees: steamed bass, curry sauce, cabbage, yogurt, and fennel pollen.
And grilled beef belly, cactus, grilled lettuce puree, and seaweed.
Ryan wasn’t sure about this dish and I wasn’t sure about it either, but the more that I think about it, the more that I think I liked it. Instead of a rich, heavily-sauced beef dish, this was light… almost like a cactus pho, if you can imagine such a thing.
Transitioning us into dessert world was crispy bread ice cream with Comte cheese.
I had such a big reaction to my first bite of this. Ryan and I were engrossed in conversation, so I just sort of popped this into my mouth and my eyes nearly bugged out of my head. It was CRISPY BREAD ICE CREAM with GRATED CHEESE ALL OVER IT. The all caps should help emphasize what a surprising taste sensation this was. I told Ryan that I hated it and loved it all at once and he felt the same way. I think eliciting a huge reaction like this is a huge accomplishment; it’s the Pink Flamingos of cheese courses.
And then there was the main dessert, featured in the lead picture of this post: Crème fraiche panna cotta, salted caramel cooked in the fireplace, caviar, and barbecue salt. I’ll show it to you again…
This was stunning. So weird, and yet it made so much sense. Pastry chefs sprinkle salt over their desserts all the time–it’s all the rage, these days–so why not caviar? But caviar wouldn’t make sense if the other ingredients didn’t sort of make sense with it. But crème fraiche makes sense with caviar, and salted caramel makes sense with panna cotta, so it all added up to a huge wow moment. This was my second favorite thing I ate at Trois Mec, after the salad.
As a final gesture, there was a sunchoke macaroon which was, of course, super tasty.
What a fun night at Trois Mec. And what a great Cyber Monday. It’s my new favorite holiday.
November 21, 2017
I’ve been making the same oatmeal almost every day for the past few weeks and the time has come for me to share it with you.
There’s a good thing and a bad thing about this oatmeal recipe. The good thing is that it only has three ingredients, unless you also add butter (as the title above the title on this post says). The bad thing about this oatmeal recipe is that it features the single ugliest picture I have ever taken of food in my life. You’re about to see that picture, but I don’t want it to scare you. Just imagine it like those pods in the movie Cocoon, sitting at the bottom of the pool, waiting to hatch into aliens who will guarantee you everlasting life. At least I think that’s what happens in Cocoon? It’s been a long time since I’ve seen it.
Told you: it’s a deeply disturbing picture.
But the idea behind the picture isn’t disturbing! It’s actually something that I’m very proud of.
See, I’m aware of a few things in the health department. 1. Oatmeal is good for you in the morning because it’s full of fiber, especially steel-cut oats.
2. Eating whole fruits is better for you than drinking fruit juices, which deny you all of the fibers and pulps that make fruit so healthy.
So this recipe combines whole fruit with steel-cut oatmeal. As someone who prefers things on the sweeter side, it’s a great move because the dates naturally sweeten the oatmeal. Which brings us to our third ingredient: salt. I use Maldon sea salt, which is what April Bloomfield uses in her English porridge, and that helps balance the sweetness of the dates. In fact, you’ll find the more salt you add, the more exciting the oatmeal becomes.
And that’s it, those three ingredients. I know you want a recipe at the end, but I’m giving it to you here. (I put that in bold so you don’t miss it.) Put two cups of water into a pot. Drop in three or four Medjool dates that you’ve pitted. Turn up the heat, bring to a boil, add a big, fat pinch of Maldon sea salt (let’s say 1/2 a teaspoon to start), and then add 1/2 cup of steel-cut oats.
Lower the heat and continue to simmer for 20 minutes or so. If the pan dries up before the 20 minutes are over, add another 1/2 cup of water, and continue to stir periodically. Here’s the cool thing that’ll happen: the dates will break apart. Towards the end, you’ll want to beat everything vigorously and really work those dates into the oatmeal. And then, if you’re feeling naughty, you can add a fourth ingredient: a little nub of good butter (I’ve been using Beurre de Baratte lately).
Whip that in too, pour into a bowl, and there you have the coziest, most comforting, relatively healthy (butter’s OK in small doses!) oatmeal in the world.
Almost worth having to endure that picture of the dates floating in water.
November 16, 2017
There’s this notion that there’s an objective answer to the question, “Where’s the best place to eat in (insert city name) right now?”
Let me be the first to say that I don’t think it’s possible to be objective about such a thing. In fact, I’m planning a trip to Paris right now and listening to all kinds of advice. Many people are telling me about their favorite restaurants and I’m entering them into Google and though the menus look excellent, sometimes I just look at pictures of the restaurants on Google images and don’t get a great vibe. That’s enough for me to set that place aside, even if the food’s spectacular. Atmosphere matters just as much to me as the food (Craig too). That’s not true for everyone, but that’s true for us.
Which brings us to Botanica.
Botanica’s my favorite place to eat in L.A. right now. I was there last week for dinner with my friends Harry and Cris; I’m going there again this weekend with my friends Jimmy and Raef. When Craig came back from New York recently, we went there for brunch.
Why do I like it so much? I love how it feels when you walk through the door. There’s a cute little shop in the foyer with natural wines and farmer’s market produce and beautiful loaves of bread. You’re greeted right away, and if your table isn’t ready, they’re really gracious about it. Last week, our table wasn’t ready and the hostess brought out a cocktail menu and when I asked if we could drink cocktails on the street, she said: “I’m not sure, but I don’t care… I’d go to jail for you!”
Another thing I love about Botanica is that it was created by two food writers: Heather Sperling, who was an editor at Tasting Table, and Emily Fiffer, who was an editor at Daily Candy before interning at Ottolenghi’s Nopi in London. Not only did they open this restaurant together, they also launched a magazine to coincide with and complement the restaurant. And despite taking so much on, I’ve met Heather and Emily several times now and they make the whole thing seem easy… feeding into my own fantasy of opening my own Amateur Gourmet restaurant someday. (Actually, I’d call it Fruma Sara and it would have a Fiddler on the Roof theme with a butcher shop called Laser Wolf next door… don’t steal that. The waiters would balance wine bottles on their heads.)
All of this wouldn’t matter, though, if the food at Botanica wasn’t great. But the food at Botanica is great; not only do I think it’s great, I think it’s the best example of what California cuisine means in 2017. Everything that Alice Waters was doing in Berkeley thirty years ago is happening here, only X100. If California cuisine meant sprinkling some local herbs on top of the fish, Botanica piles the herbs on. Literally, when I ordered the lamb once I had to dig through a garden to get to the meat. I loved it.
The flavors are bright and refreshing and bold. There’s lots of acid (especially in the extraordinary vegetarian cassoulet), lots of chiles, lots of fruit and vegetables. My friends Harry and Cris went nuts for this roasted squash with burrata.
It wasn’t even a little bit sweet. It was savory and earthy and such a surprising but inevitable flavor combination.
And this spice-braised chicken with chickpeas and fall fruit was everything.
I never leave Botanica feeling too full or sabotaged by undisclosed infusions of butter and cream. In fact, I always leave Botanica feeling better than I felt when I arrived. If that’s not the mark of a great restaurant, I don’t know what is.
So, to bring this post full circle, do I objectively think that Botanica is the best place to eat in L.A. right now? I have absolutely no idea. But if you want to know where I’ll be eating this weekend, now you know.
The post My Favorite Restaurant in L.A. Right Now Is Botanica appeared first on The Amateur Gourmet.